Research Findings to Support Effective Educational Policymaking: Evidence and Action Steps for State, District and Local Policymakers

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Research Findings to Support Effective Educational Policymaking: Evidence and Action Steps for State, District and Local Policymakers

Dear Readers,

For the past decade, The Wallace Foundation has worked with 24 states, and many more school districts, city governments and community organizations, to improve opportunities for children to learn both in and out of school. Then as now, millions of children are receiving an inadequate education, many in chronically failing schools in distressed neighborhoods. And the problem isn’t just schools. Far too many children find themselves alone and languishing after the school day ends and over the summer months, with little available to help them continue to learn and be engaged in productive activities outside of school.

If anything is clear from our work, it is the essential yet often-overlooked role of leadership – in turning around failing schools and in ensuring that excellent teaching reaches all children. We now have, for the first time, overwhelming evidence that strong leadership in a school can make a real difference in student achievement – indeed, research concludes that “there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader” and that “the impact of good leadership is greatest in schools where it is most needed.”1 Investing in good leadership is also a particularly cost-effective improvement strategy: who better than a highly-skilled, well-prepared principal to influence the teaching that goes on throughout an entire school? Similarly, we know that committed leadership from mayors and others in the public and private sectors is no less crucial for cities working to make high-quality, out-of-school time learning available to more children.

In this brief guide, first published in 2009 and now updated with new research, we discuss what we have learned about how to improve the learning opportunities we provide for our children, in and out of school. Specifically, the resources highlighted in this document offer policymakers practical guidance on: what an effective school leader actually does; how the training of school leaders can be improved so that they can meet the tough demands of their jobs; and what districts need to change to better support and evaluate principals so that effective leadership practices are recognized and reinforced, and instructional improvement becomes everyone’s top priority. It also discusses what public and private leaders throughout entire cities need to do to ensure that the afterschool hours and summer months are times of enrichment and growth for all children, rather than boredom and risk.

Our nation faces serious challenges that require its leaders to make the best possible uses of public funds, based on the best available knowledge, to meet both the short and long term needs of the country. We offer this guide as a source of such knowledge, and we invite you to visit our website at where the publications cited throughout this document can be downloaded for free, along with many others.


M. Christine DeVita President, The Wallace Foundation 

M. Christine DeVita
President, The Wallace Foundation

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1 Kenneth Leithwood, et al., How Leadership Influences Student Learning, Universities of Minnesota and Toronto, 2004, 3